In 1800 the frontier bases of the British and Russian empires were 2,000 miles apart; by 1900 the gap had diminished to a few hundred miles. Such was the nature of the struggle, or the "Great Game" as it became known, for mastery of Central Asia between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia. The very name the "Great Game" has romantic echoes and Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac's fascinating and readable account is peopled with long-forgotten adventurers and explorers who have left more than conquest to the generations that follow. There's the Russian Nikolai Przhevalsky who left his name to scores of flora and fauna, including the ancestor to the horse; not to mention the scores of plucky cartographic Brits who solved most of the riddles of Asia's geography. But behind the romance lies a darker more serious purpose. Although the Russians and the British never actually went to war over Asia, they fought a propaganda war, both at home and abroad, that has echoes of the Cold War. And as in the Cold War, there were scores of innocent victims. To protect its right--and it was seen as a right--to Empire, and India in particular, Britain brought about two wars in Afghanistan, invaded Tibet, took over Egypt and divided Persia into different spheres of influence. All this Meyer and Brysac recount with a loving, unfussy attention to detail but where they come into their own is in bringing the story up to date. For the Great Game continues, even though Britain has been replaced by the US. Throughout the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s the Americans were happy to fund anti-democratic guerrilla groups on the grounds they were more opposed to the Soviets than they were to the US. Ever since the Soviets withdrew, the American influence has lingered as dozens of well-armed rival factions continue to tear their country apart. As before, the Great Game is anything but a game for those directly involved. For them it is a matter of life and death. --John Crace
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Monumental . . . A remarkable achievement (Jan Morris, OBSERVER
A scrupulously balanced and extremely readable chronicle . . . A book about cartography, achaeology, anthropology and several other things, as well as exploration and imperial lust (Geoffrey Moorhouse, GUARDIAN
Terrific . . . Although this book is a big one, its pages race away (Nigel Jones, SUNDAY EXPRESS
Entertaining, fluent and absorbing (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY